Managing God Right Out The Door

Let’s face it – It is easier to organize and manage ourselves than it is to live as disciples of Jesus.

It’s almost funny. As we consult with churches and coach pastors, this consistent tendency shows up so often. As they realize congregational invigoration is needed in order to become the church God is calling them to be, the first tendency is to organize. Evidently, a pervasive assumption runs through our collective church life, driving us toward management. It’s like we believe, “If we organize ourselves well enough, then we will become a more vitalized church.” When we say this out loud, or read it written out, it appears ludicrous...and familiar.

Just how committed are we to the idea that efficient and effective management makes for an effective and faithful church? Look at all the documents denominational churches have created: Book of Order, Book of Discipline, Book of Worship, Constitution, By-Laws, Committee Structure, Canons, etc.

If congregational invigoration could happen through effective management and organization, it would have happened, given our great investment in organizing ourselves. Unfortunately, many well-organized churches have managed themselves right out of existence, closing their doors.

I’m driven back to that ground-breaking study by Martin Saarinen, The Life-Cycle Of A Congregation, published in 1986 by The Alban Institute. Saarinen found that churches experience a life-cycle, as we do as individuals. The difference in this life-cycle is that new life can happen at any stage, renewing the church and starting a new bell curve of invigorated life. “Prime” is the stage near the top of the curve, followed by Maturity, Aristocracy, Bureaucracy, and then Death. The following quote from the Aristocracy stage illustrates what I’m describing.

“The leaders pride themselves on their ability to maintain the congregation using efficient business practices (high A), but are nostalgic over “the good ol’ days” when the church was full of people, and they bemoan the growing number of lapsed members.”

Fortunately, many churches are not at the Aristocracy stage. Unfortunately, many churches do behave as if they believe the key to being a “successful” church is being more organized and managed. Clues to this assumption or belief?
-Low scores on Passionate Spirituality on the Natural Church Development Church Profile
-More committees which need staffing than people available or willing to staff them
-“Governance Exhaustion” – significant dread of one more committee meeting or another policy
-Low morale and momentum
-The awareness that things run so well in this church that it could run on its own for years (without God’s power or intervention) without anyone noticing

Certainly effective organization and management are valuable activities in the church. It’s simply that they are support activities. They support the movement of the Holy Spirit as we organize our lives around Jesus Christ. Let’s face it – It is easier to organize and manage ourselves than it is to live as disciples of Jesus. When we follow Christ, we lose control. God refuses to be managed.

And this reality is where our greatest need and longing are found. First and foremost is getting caught up in God. Then, when needed, we organize ourselves for missional advancement. So, let us lay down our tools, and lift up our eyes, discovering a yearning for the wide, boundless ocean of God.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t summon people to buy wood, prepare tools, distribute jobs, and organize the work, rather teach people the yearning for the wide, boundless ocean.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle President